Appreciation

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” ~Frederick Keonig

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” ~Voltaire

I received an email forwarded on to me by a friend today.  Typically I see FWD and immediately archive it without reading but today I took the time to see what had caught my friend’s attention.  Thankfully, I did click.  I took the time to appreciate something I normally would dismiss without thought.

There is a full article on the Washington Post and the video can be seen on YouTube.  Below is a transcript of the image attached in the email:

Washington, DC Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007.

Joshua Bell

The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approximately 2000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later:
the violinist recieved his first dollar:a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:
A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move quickly.

45 minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 people gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million.

Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theatre in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

The questions raised: in a common place envirionment at an inappropriate hour, do we percieve beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…

How many other things are we missing?

Schrödinger’s Cat

“The future depends on what you do today.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

Schrödinger’s Cat is a quantum physics experiment (or thought experiment) which essentially means there is no way to know something without first attempting it.  In a word it is a: paradox.

It is a variation on carpe diem and other such mentalities laid out in a hypothetical experiment that goes like this:

There is a Cat.

It is put in a box with a nuclear reactive substance that is decaying and can potentially release a vial of poison into the box with the cat, thus killing it.  The random event of decay time can trigger at any moment smashing the vial and releasing the poison.

A key element in this hypothetical experiment is how the cat is unable to be seen by an observer.  The box prevents us from knowing.  So, with no knowledge of what is occurring beneath the box, we can consider the cat to be both living and deceased.

There is no way to know the truth without opening the box.

This mentality can be applied to life.  We can’t know without doing.  All other knowledge that is not acquired from our own experience is assumed knowledge and its accuracy varies.

Other interpretations

Copenhagen interpretation – The cat exists in only one state or the other, alive or dead, the moment we open the box.

Many worlds interpretation – The cat exists in both states, but when we open the box we trigger a split.  An observer and the already-split cat split into an observer looking at a box with a dead cat, and an observer looking at a box with a live cat.  Since the dead and alive states are decoherent, there is no effective communication or interaction between them.  This is essentially a parallel universe.

The Sense of Self – Revisited

For my senior thesis at Elon university I created an elaborate installation which sought to explore and understand the human soul and our individual sense of self perception.  The piece, entitled: The Sense of Self was the culmination of a year of research, creation, experimentation and self development.

Below I have revisited some key themes from my thesis work.  I have taken my pages and pages of notes and ideas and condensed them.  For the full scope of my thesis work visit: The Sense of Self

 

Artist Statement

Awareness of oneself as both separate yet connected to everything is a fundamental experience.  Individuals of varied faiths and backgrounds all strive to understand the feelings they have and search for meaning and purpose in their lives.

There is something that motivates us to express ourselves and offers us a unique perspective not shared by anyone.  This individual outlook, while different from any other, still retains a vague familiarity allowing us to empathize.

Perhaps a specific structure in the brain delicately controls a precise chemical balance creating self awareness.  Or perhaps we posses a soul, a metaphysical essence which transcends time.  Our inner-being has been labeled by a myriad terms since the origin of mankind yet invariably retains its mysterious nature.  Despite our inability to adequately describe this awareness, man never ceases the attempt.

Current scientific research is just beginning to unravel the mysteries that connect the mind and body to this metaphysical human component.  What we know is that a direct correlation exists between specific structures in the brain and electromagnetic fields, which can alter our perceptions and in some may even induce spiritually significant experiences.

The soul, being a mirror of ourselves must be dynamic and constantly shifting.  It is subject to outside influence.  An aqueous magnetite known as ferrofluid best demonstrates the flexibility in form because of its animate interactions with magnetic fields.

This body of work explores the soul, imaging it through a narrative pseudo-reality.  In this world the soul is extracted and examined.  Its characteristics are described in a constructed scene.

Understanding our human need to search for meaning begins by imagining our self essence.  I believe understanding the soul is hope for unity. We are divided by so many things in our world from gender to skin color but there always exists the potential reconnect with others.

 

Self Identity

Humankind possesses an innate ability to retain self identity transcending time.

We look back at photo albums of our youth and even though we may not even remember the specific moment when the picture was taken, we still create a story between who we are now and the person in the photograph.  They look at the child in the photo and still say “that’s me.”

“I know who I was this morning, but I think I’ve changed several times since then…” ~Alice in Wonderland

Our bodies replace cells as we grow and develop.  By the age of 21 we have thrice completely replaced every original cell in our bodies.

If the physical composition has been completely altered, are we still the same person?

Some say the notion of the “I” or the “self” is an illusion or some evolutionary quirk designed to give our lives purpose, benefiting the survival of our genetic lineage.

 

Perspective

“We live in illusion and the appearance of things. There is a reality. We are that reality. When you understand this, you see that you are nothing, and being nothing, you are everything.” ~Buddhist Quote

We exist in the space of our own thoughts, simultaneously perceiving, interpreting and acting.  In this way we are both a part of the Universe as a whole and also a separate entity, completely unique from everything around us.  We cannot exist as one or the other but in a delicate balance somewhere between both.

Each perspective is totally unique and indescribable, yet, human beings  have striven throughout history to empathize with one another, sharing our unique perspectives on the world around us.  This vast effort of generations gave rise to art, science, culture and language.

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” ~Douglas Adams

Perspective is everything.  Where we stand, what we observe and the people and things we interact with define, in a sense,  who we are.

Matthew Ritchie is an artist who exploring this sense of perspective in his work.    He says we are trapped in our own universe, locked into a point of view, and his piece Universal Cell encapsulates this feeling.

His sculptures are a digital drawing taken out of the computer and cut into metal shapes, arranged and painted to cage the one place of perspective.   

Ritchie also talks about the “noise” of daily life.  We are constantly bombarded by information: sound, light, smell, taste, touch, emotions.  Everything we experience coalesces into our worldview.  We all experienced this sensory overload in our infancy.  We simply weren’t able to process the staggering amount of information we recieved in our early years and most cannot remember this far back.  We retain certain memories and feelings and others fade yet one sense remains unchanged.  We are aware of our self.

Some people are acutely aware of their shifting perspective; the fluctuating unique path of their life flowing through the continuum of time.  Even though we constantly reevaluate and reinterpret our identity, we know who we are.

 

Religion & Belief

How do we label this experience, this sense, of the self?

Religion has been trying to explain it since the dawn of man.  Yet it is only in recent years have we been able to understand how this process of self identity works. Current scientific research is just beginning to unravel the mysteries that connect the mind and body to this metaphysical human component.

What we know is that a direct correlation exists between specific structures in the brain and electromagnetic fields.  This construct of the brain can alter our perceptions and in some may even induce spiritually significant experiences.  Some who experience this influence describe a loss of sense of space and time.  Many equate these feelings to god or the afterlife.

This experience is not only seen under lab conditions, but in meditation and prayer in countless religions around the globe.  Monks and nuns from opposite sides of the world have exemplified nearly identical patterns in blood flow and electrical activity in the brain during meditation.  These patterns are most noticeable in the Temporal lobe of the brain; the area which controls our sense of space and time.

Could altering brain patterns artificially have the same impact as self induced meditations?  By measuring the activity in the brain as it is subjected to electromagnetic interference Dr. Michael Persinger provided evidence of the impact of these fields on our perceptions.

He conducted a series of experiments using a wired-up helmet designed to concentrate magnetic fields on the temporal lobes of the wearer.  He has also disproved ghostly apparitions and noises by detecting electromagnetic fields in places where the apparitions occur.  In one case simply unplugging the clock radio responsible for the electromagnetic interference solved the “ghost” problem.

The research of people like Dr Persinger is opening a new field called neurotheology which crosses the traditional boundaries of science and religion.

 

Metaphysics

Our sense of self is a fragile and precious awareness.  We experience it everyday, in every decision we make.

We all have a sense of self which first emerges around age two.  A free will, conscience or soul.  Our very notion of self.  It guides and directs our actions, shaping the world around us.  This metaphysical component is one of the great mysteries of humanity.

So just what is this inner self?  A metaphysical presence?  A soul?  Does it reside in our bodies?  How does it exert influence over them?

In order to answer these and many more questions about the metaphysical component of humanity I turned to man’s greatest gift…

 

Imagination

“I believe in intuition and inspiration. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.” Albert Einstein

I came across a video of an interactive, organic form made entirely by magnetic force on this fascinating material called ferrofluid by Sachiko Kodama called Protrude, Flow.  Ferrofluid’s abilty to flow both with and against gravity as it interacts with magnetic forces emulated the lifelike qualities I desired.

The shape changing liquid creates a form which seems both alive yet unearthly, not meant to be viewed in our world.  Illustrations and other objects provided me with more details in my pseudo-reality, furthering my imagined souls, allowing me to give them more specific characteristics.

In order to make the ‘souls’ able to ebb and flow as the audience interacted with them I introduced magnets.  They create an invisible force which can defy our senses seeming unreal, even magical.

This sense of mysterious natural forces is captured in Thomas Shannon’s works which are large magnets suspended floating in midair resting solely on the invisible force.

In my installation I wanted to produce a similar effect.  I chose N42 Grade Rare Earth Magnets which proved surprisingly strong for their size.  As they were prone to pinch fingers and shoot across the room at any metals smashing all in their path I embedded them in a wooden ‘soul stasis plinth’ which both hid them from the audience and still allowed the feilds they produced to manipulate the motion of the ferrofluid.

The ferrofluid itself proved tricky and I experimented with various fluids from household cleaning products to honey finally selecting four for my primary specimens because of their varied interactions with the fluid.  Some mixed with it partially while others slowed its motion drasitcally.

 

Final Installation and Presentation

As I settled on a final scene to construct in the gallery I talked alot with my mentors about how to approach the space.  Engaging the space I was given and incorporating elements to attract and capture the attention of an audience.  I decided to attempt to arouse curiosity by engaging as many varied senses as I could.  Scented candles, liquids and powders created an aroma to entice the viewer.  Notes, diagrams and various glass containers, liquid suspensions and wood with burn etching stimulated the audience visually.

I found that in the process of creating a body of work the individual elements influenced each other greatly.  As I created stories and gathered other objects such as glass bottles and metal instruments they recurred in some way in other portions of the final installation.  Sketches of the objects appeared in the copious notes and files.  Symbols, calculations and terminology were repeated, reinterpreted, scratched out and rewritten.  I became the figure in my story.  I was the “mad” scientist, piecing the soul together.  Only without all the slicing open, dissection and massive electromagnetic abuse.

In an attempt to capture how I have changed (along with my thesis work) throughout the year I even incorporated my own writing from the past two semesters as my perspective evolved.  I was reflecting on my own change.  I am not the same as I was in the beginning of the year.  My physical composition has changed, my mental outlook is vastly different but you look at me and I am still the same person.  I am still James.  You all have your own mental dossier on me and have created it out of interpretations of my actions.  It is my being’s imprint on you.  I change things as I am changed by them but I am always myself because beneath this physical shell there is more to me.

Understanding the soul is perhaps the most difficult and mysterious subject known to us.  man has sought to explain the phenomena for generations, and for good reason.  Understanding ourselves allows us to relate to others and that is truly the most difficult task. We are individual minds floating alone in a sea of other such individual beings.  I want to reach out to another person and truly understand them.  Connect with them.  I need to understand how it all fits together in order to make changes which can benefit myself and the species as a whole.

Understanding that the others around us are just as unique as we are and respecting them as such is the key to the future.  We can overcome differences and make great strides by seeking to understand the thread which connects all life on a deeper level.